Those who throw a ball across a field, hit a puck on an ice rink or run around a track for a living aren’t always considered to be the sharpest tools in the box. But sporting prowess and brainpower don’t need to be mutually exclusive terms. Here’s a look at 40 athletes whose mental muscles appear to be powerful, too.
Craig Breslow graduated from one of America’s prestigious universities, Yale, where he studied biophysics and biochemistry. The pitcher even successfully applied for NYU’s medical school before Major League Baseball came calling. Breslow hasn’t completely abandoned his previous ambitions, though. During the offseason, he helps in the fields of genome research and pediatric cancer awareness.
Marion Bartoli’s father was a physician before he became a tennis coach. And it seems as though his daughter has inherited both his intellect and his ability with a racket. Not only did the Frenchwoman win the women’s singles tournament at Wimbledon in 2013, but she also boasts an IQ of 175. That’s a full 15 points higher than one of the world’s most celebrated geniuses, Albert Einstein!
Before entering the NBA, Spaniard Pau Gasol had planned to study medicine at the University of Barcelona. It’s why he was able to converse about scoliosis with stunned doctors during a 2010 trip to a kids hospital. The basketball star could have had that same discussion in five different languages, too, including his self-taught French and Italian.
Dikembe Mutombo must rank as one of the most multilingual men ever to grace a basketball court. The former NBA star is fluent in no fewer than nine different languages. You may not know that Mutombo couldn’t speak a word of English when he first traveled from his native Congo to Georgetown University to study diplomacy and linguistics.
Unlike most sportsmen who have graduated from a university, Ryan Newman actually had the foresight to earn a degree related to his future day job. The NASCAR driver attended Purdue University where he studied vehicular structural engineering. It’s a feat that’s often aired in a sport famed for its trash-talk sessions.
Could former Liverpool F.C. goalkeeper Simon Mignolet be thinking about taking a position in public office someday? The soccer player certainly has the credentials, having worked his way through a remote-study politics degree courtesy of the Catholic University of Leuven. Mignolet has also expressed a desire to further his education when he retires from the beautiful game.
Temi Fagbenle may well be one of the smartest players to have graced the WNBA. The basketball star graduated from Harvard with a degree in anthropology in the days before she took to the court with the Minnesota Lynx. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, she also furthered her education with a master’s at the University of Southern California.
Frank Lampard earned an impressive 12 GCSEs, Britain’s high school qualification, before becoming a Chelsea legend. And one of those was in the most unlikely of subjects: Latin! Unsurprisingly, so far he’s the only Premier League name to have achieved such a feat. The player-turned-soccer-manager also reportedly boasts an IQ of 150.
Wladimir Klitschko undoubtedly has the brains to go with his brawn. The 6ft 6in boxer, a former World Heavyweight Champion you may remember, can converse in his native Russian and three other languages, too. And the former fiancé of Hayden Panettiere also graduated from Kiev University with a sports science Ph.D.
Katie Smith won two WNBA titles and three Olympic golds during her glittering basketball career. But her educational achievements are just as impressive. The Hall of Famer first studied at Ohio State University before turning professional. And after hanging up her boots, Smith obtained a master’s in the field of allied health professions.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s nickname of Harvard Man explains why he’s on this list. The quarterback is one of no fewer than 39 NFL stars to have studied at the prestigious institution at the last count. Fitzpatrick majored in economics, having previously attained an impressive SAT score of 1580. And he later completed the Wonderlic Test in an NFL-record-breaking time of just nine minutes.
In 2006 Steve Nash featured on Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list. But it wasn’t just his skills on the basketball court being celebrated. By this point the two-time MVP had developed a reputation as a keen philanthropist. Before gracing the NBA, Nash had also graduated from the University of Santa Clara with a degree in sociology.
Just when you think that Venus Williams couldn’t possibly get any more impressive, you learn that she also has two degrees to her name. The tennis superstar graduated from Indiana University East in 2015 having majored in business. And eight years before that she had left the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with an associate degree. Williams somehow found the time to complete all her studies while winning every major tournament going.
It’s impossible to talk about intelligent sportsmen without mentioning Bill Bradley. The New York Knicks legend graduated from Princeton with distinction – or magna cum laude in the lingo – before furthering his education at Oxford University. Following his glittering career in the NBA, Bradley also used his brainpower to launch a political career, serving as one of New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators for three terms.
Marcellus Wiley overcame all the odds stacked against him while growing up to become both a gifted sportsman and Columbia University graduate. The footballer was also crowned as his class Valedictorian in his high school years, and achieved the somewhat left-field if impressive distinction of being named as the national typewriting champion. After retiring from the NFL, Wiley went on to enjoy success in both the business and broadcasting worlds.
Myron Rolle certainly made sure he had something to fall back on if his NFL career didn’t work out. The footballer graduated from Florida State University as a pre-med before landing a medical anthropology scholarship at one of England’s most prestigious institutions, Oxford. Rolle then went on to train as a neurosurgeon.
Michelle Kwan first attended college at the turn of the century but shortly after decided to focus all her efforts on her career in figure skating. The two-time medal-winning Olympian resumed her education a decade later at the University of Denver. Kwan continued to develop her knowledge of international relations with a master’s degree from Tufts University.
NBA star Emeka Okafor attended the University of Connecticut before launching his basketball career, graduating with a finance degree. The one-time Charlotte Bobcats star was even crowned Academic All-American of the Year during his mid-2000s stint at the college. Okafor no doubt drew upon what he’d learned to launch a life-saving initiative in Africa in 2008.
Shane Battier had a reputation for being one of the NBA’s nicest guys during his stint with the Houston Rockets. The basketball star was also one of the league’s most intelligent. He graduated from Duke University with a grade point average (GPA) of 3.5, having majored in a subject quite different to most of his fellow educated athletes, religion.
Ross Ohlendorf managed to combine his baseball ambitions with his studies at Princeton University. His senior thesis centered on the most lucrative players drafted under Rule IV across a period of four years. Financial engineering and operations research were the subjects in which Ohlendorf majored at the prestigious college.
Team USA’s Shannon Miller won an astonishing seven Olympic medals in the 1990s. But as a gymnast, her career was always going to be a short-lived one. To prepare for life after pommel horses and parallel bars, Miller studied for a degree in marketing before moving on to Boston College where she gained another in law.
George Parros was famous for being handy with his fists. But the NHL star sure wasn’t compensating for a lack of brainpower. The mustached ice hockey icon studied economics at Princeton University before launching a career on the ice rink. In an ironic turn of events, the brawler later served in the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety.
Some of the world’s finest financial minds have attended Harvard University. Likewise some of the world’s finest footballers. Matt Birk proved that the esteemed institution can also sometimes link the two fields. Before lifting the Super Bowl, the NFL star graduated from the prestigious college with a degree in economics.
Hotel administration wouldn’t appear to be the most obvious choice of degree subject for an ice hockey player. But that’s what Douglas Murray decided to pursue at Cornell University before establishing a reputation as one of the NHL’s most formidable defenders. After hanging up his skates, Murray ventured into everything from philanthropy to property investment.
Ibtihaj Muhammad helped Team USA’s fencers defeat Italy 45-30 to earn bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Just nine years earlier, the sportswoman had left Duke University with a very specific degree. Yes, before becoming renowned for her skills with a sword, Muhammad bagged a bachelor’s degree in international relations and African and African-American studies.
You could say that the lack of college interest in Jeremy Lin ended up working in his favor. The NBA star was able to dedicate his efforts towards the economics degree for which he studied at Harvard University. And after earning a 3.1 GPA at the college, Lin was eventually signed by the New York Knicks.
It’s little surprise that Grant Hill ended up studying for a degree before gracing the NBA. After all, his mother attended the same school as Hillary Clinton while his four-time Pro Bowler father was a Yale graduate. Hill majored at Duke University in political science and history where he also twice tasted NCAA championship success.
Is there anything that former San Diego Padres star Chris Young can’t do? While attending Princeton University, the sportsman excelled in basketball and baseball, winning Rookie of the Year titles in both. And he also somehow found the time to graduate with a degree thanks to a thesis involving Jackie Robinson, racial stereotypes and The New York Times newspaper.
You might expect that the five Olympic medals she’s won in rowing would be Katherine Grainger’s most impressive achievement. But the most-decorated British female in the history of the Games has almost as many degrees to her name. That’s right: Grainger studied law at Edinburgh University and medical ethics and law at Glasgow University before graduating from King’s College London with a doctorate in homicide sentencing.
Chris Nowinski’s path to wrestling stardom wasn’t the usual. The WWE favorite initially had dreams of making it in the NFL having impressed on the football field at Harvard, where he had been studying sociology. But when no team came calling, Nowinski pivoted into the wrestling ring instead. He later launched a foundation designed to deal with the serious issue of footballing concussions.
Tim Green proved both before and after his footballing career that he was one smart cookie. He first graduated from Syracuse University with the highest mark possible – or summa cum laude in the parlance – in the mid-1980s. But after eight seasons in the NFL, Green decided to head back to the same institution’s College of Law. He now practices the profession in the Big Apple and has also written more than 30 different books.
Harvard University’s reputation on the football field might not be quite as glowing as that of its academic department. But that didn’t deter NFL star Cameron Brate from choosing to study economics there. The Tampa Bay Buccaneer also interned at several Boston hedge funds before becoming one of the best-paid tight ends in the National Football League.
Victoria Pendleton became a household name in her native Great Britain overnight when she stormed to gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The cyclist no doubt leaned on what she learned during her studies at the University of Northumbria. In 2002 she earned a degree there in the field of sport and exercise science.
New York Jet Brandon Copeland studied economics at the University of Pennsylvania’s esteemed Wharton School of Business. And he’s maintained an interest in education during his time in the NFL, too. In fact, during his downtime the linebacker returns to his alma mater to teach a new generation of students about financial literacy.
Brad Ausmus reportedly set himself two targets when he finished high school. His first was to establish himself in Major League Baseball, something he achieved after being named as an All-Star during his time with the New York Yankees. Ausmus’ second was to graduate from an Ivy League college. He also realized this dream when he left Dartmouth University with a degree in government.
Sarah Hughes may have only competed in one Winter Olympics. But she sure made it count, picking up the women’s figure skating gold at Salt Lake City in 2002. Just a year later Hughes switched her attention to her education and in 2009 she graduated college with an American studies degree.
Dhani Jones studied at the University of Michigan before going on to enjoy stints with several NFL teams as a linebacker. But a degree isn’t the only sign of the footballer’s abilities off the field. The athlete has also launched several businesses and hosted shows on CNBC and the Travel Channel.
Ron Darling began college life at Yale studying Southeast Asian and French history. He opted to put his academic career on hold, though, when the New York Mets drafted him in the summer of 1981. But six years later the pitcher was able to resume his degree at a different university, NYU, while recovering from a thumb injury.
Kerri Strug famously earned a gold on home turf at Atlanta 1996 despite an injury to her ankle. The gymnast had to be lifted up to the podium to be awarded the medal that had always been her dream. After waving goodbye to the sport, Strug proved again how hardworking she was by obtaining both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, the latter in sociology.
There’s a reason why many golfers sought Joe Ogilvie’s financial advice during his time on the PGA Tour. Before forging a career on the green, the golfer studied economics at Duke University. Ogilvie has also founded an eponymous investment firm and once told ESPN, “I continually want to find ways to make things more efficient. I try to do that with my golf game and I try to do it in other aspects of my life.”